They on before me went; I sole pursued,
List’ning their speech, that to my thoughts convey’d
Mysterious lessons of sweet poesy.
But soon they ceas’d; for midway of the road
A tree we found, with goodly fruitage hung,
And pleasant to the smell: and as a fir
Upward from bough to bough less ample spreads,
So downward this less ample spread, that none.
Methinks, aloft may climb. Upon the side,
That clos’d our path, a liquid crystal fell
From the steep rock, and through the sprays above
Stream’d showering. With associate step the bards
Drew near the plant; and from amidst the leaves
A voice was heard: “Ye shall be chary of me;”
And after added: “Mary took more thought
For joy and honour of the nuptial feast,
Than for herself who answers now for you.
The women of old Rome were satisfied
With water for their beverage. Daniel fed
On pulse, and wisdom gain’d. The primal age
Was beautiful as gold; and hunger then
Made acorns tasteful, thirst each rivulet
Run nectar. Honey and locusts were the food,
Whereon the Baptist in the wilderness
Fed, and that eminence of glory reach’d
And greatness, which the’ Evangelist records.”
On the green leaf mine eyes were fix’d, like
Who throws away his days in idle chase
Of the diminutive, when thus I heard
The more than father warn me: “Son! our time
Asks thriftier using. Linger not: away.”
Thereat my face and steps at once I turn’d
Toward the sages, by whose converse cheer’d
I journey’d on, and felt no toil: and lo!
A sound of weeping and a song: “My lips,
O Lord!” and these so mingled, it gave birth
To pleasure and to pain. “O Sire, belov’d!
Say what is this I hear?” Thus I inquir’d.
“Spirits,” said he, “who as they
Their debt of duty pay.” As on their road
The thoughtful pilgrims, overtaking some
Not known unto them, turn to them, and look,
But stay not; thus, approaching from behind
With speedier motion, eyed us, as they pass’d,
A crowd of spirits, silent and devout.
The eyes of each were dark and hollow: pale
Their visage, and so lean withal, the bones
Stood staring thro’ the skin. I do not think
Thus dry and meagre Erisicthon show’d,
When pinc’ed by sharp-set famine to the quick.
“Lo!” to myself I mus’d, “the
race, who lost
Jerusalem, when Mary with dire beak
Prey’d on her child.” The sockets seem’d as rings,
From which the gems were drops. Who reads the name
Of man upon his forehead, there the M
Had trac’d most plainly. Who would deem, that scent
Of water and an apple, could have prov’d
Powerful to generate such pining want,
Not knowing how it wrought? While now I stood
Wond’ring what thus could waste them (for the cause